How to Set Up Digital Workstations
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
I'm always dreaming of having 10 more minutes to extend creative lessons. However, my rational side knows that I will never be able to create more time for one class without robbing it from another. I struggled with the idea of restructuring my schedule to add these additional teaching minutes. Finally, an idea came that seemed manageable. I decided to try flipped learning. This is where your students watch video lessons during the evening for homework and when they return to class the following day, they engage in active discussion and hands-on learning. One problem: how could I expect my second graders to go home and borrow their parent's devices to watch these videos? Besides, what lessons would I flip, or teach differently?
After extensive research, I decided to flip my handwriting and spelling lessons. I also decided to put a spin on flipped learning. I call this "internal flipping." This is where my students watch the video lessons I create in class, not at home for homework. One may ask why I simply don't teach the lesson in person during class. I leveraged technology to support my creative lesson planning. I record my handwriting and spelling lessons on my iPad. Then, I put my iPad into a workstation, or center, for children to view and interact with as they're in partnerships. These partnerships rotate through a schedule of workstations throughout the week so that they still receive the spelling and handwriting lessons with me teaching them. As children rotate through a series of stations throughout the week, I am free to work with small groups on differentiated needs, offering personalized instruction. In a way, I've cloned myself. Now, there are two of me teaching at the same time!
Leverage Technology to Teach Creatively
You can view my Educreations spelling lesson now!
How To Set Up Stations in Your Classroom
1. Decide What Stations You Need
If I were to actually gain this magical teaching time each day, what would I do with it? More importantly, what would the students do with it? How would they collaborate, share, and learn?
I knew that I wanted more time for students to read together, so I created a partner reading station. I also wanted additional time for students to enjoy geography. So, I created a geography station. I wanted freedom in my stations, so I was careful not to lock myself in by titling my stations in a broad manner.
For example, I do not have a "Working with Words" station. Instead, I have a "Spelling and Word Work" station. I know it seems minor, but it helps me in planning. Even more so, it helps my students in planning. Another example is that we do not have a "Science" station. Instead, we have a "Discovery" station. This allows me to plug in any sort of creative content.
This year I have a subscription to the BRAND NEW site, Science 4 Us. I am super impressed by the quantity and quality of content available. Each section has such an array of rich and interactive resources that are informative and developmentally appropriate. The site is Common Core State Standards-aligned to make planning and using the resources easy. Science 4 Us not only has wonderful resources for students; they also share materials to support teacher planning. I encourage you to check out this great, new resource.
I also have a "Technology" station. Even though most of my stations are digital stations, I also included a station called technology so that I could plug in any sort of project idea or theme, regardless of the subject matter.
Each classroom may have different stations. It depends on the students and their classroom needs. Some classrooms may not need a geography station. They may have something different. Below are simply examples to share what I use in my classroom. Feel free to borrow and adapt.
You can download this lesson planning template now!
2. Gather Existing Tech Gadgets
Old and New
In order to have digital stations, I needed devices to put into each station. Clearly, I wasn't going to stuff a device in a station if it didn't make sense to do so. However, I did want to gather all of my resources first to see if any could be used to enhance the work the students would do or aid in engaging their interest level.
Some of the gadgets were older and some were newer. When a dear friend retired last year, she passed along a crate full of picture books and cassette tapes. They were all still in nearly-perfect condition. These would be great for our listening station. I contacted our librarian to see if she had a cassette player we could borrow.
The kids love this station! They think it is so neat to listen to the tape rewind and click when ready. They get so excited — just as if the timer on the oven dinged for fresh-baked cookies. They love that click means that their story is back to the beginning and ready for them to enjoy!
Livescribe 3: Add voice to your words! My students love the Sound Stickers, too. See how Jacob (my five-year-old) uses the Livescribe pen here. My students L.O.V.E. this technology. I did a post last year on their Livescribe Sky Pen, too. We have been using their products in our classroom for a while. I highly recommend Livescribe tools.
Even Steven's Odd Game: My students enjoy game time! I include a variety of games in our workstations. We recognize technology as any tool that helps us learn. Sometimes, the dice are the medium we use in games to help us have fun while learning. This game is a H.U.G.E. hit in our class. Any game that is easy to set up and play while delivering lots of smiles and learning is a win.
Max HandStand for iPad: Kids collaborate on one iPad with ease thanks to this iPad stand. I had my husband put the stand on our table in the classroom. You would have thought I gave each child a new puppy . . . they were so excited to see this stand. They love gathering around to share the iPad, while I love that the one iPad now can be shared by a small group of kids. They don't get upset about who is holding the device. Plus, I know it will not drop or break. There is a lock on the back to keep the iPad safe. I keep the key on my keychain to unlock the device and remove the iPad when needed.
Make a Wish List
I had many other items on my list that I wish I had for my kids to be able to use in the classroom, so I made a wish list of gadgets. The students also helped create ideas for adding to the list. They've expressed a real desire to learn how to program and learn coding. Many of our students also take robotics after school.
Cloudboard: This project is a brand new item in Kickstarter. I was fortunate enough to get a beta set to try out with my kids. They are having so much fun placing the pieces on the board to make the character on the screen do certain actions. It is like they are the puppet master, only they aren't playing with puppets but rather video game characters. How cool would it be to program your own video game? Imagine playing with building blocks that allowed you to program your game. Because this product is in Kickstarter, they are looking for backers to help fund their idea. If you're interested in supporting Cloudboard, please click here to learn more.
Romo: Fun. Fun. Fun. My daughter is obsessed with Romo! She's officially adopted a Romo Robot. She is learning to program Romo to respond to her. My son, Jacob, is only five years old and also enjoys helping to program Romo. They have trained him to respond to their faces. He makes certain facial expressions when he detects their faces. They just love seeing him react. Romo is a friend that "learns and grows up with you." We can also control Romo from another room in the house by using our iPad as a remote controller. All we had to do was download the free app! I can't wait to bring him in for the students to see.
Tiggly: Tiggly is great for younger learners. I felt it was important to include an item that would also appeal to younger grade levels. Tiggly allows students to have the tactile ability to handle objects while still learning and receiving feedback from a digital device. Tiggly was named as one of TIME Magazine's "Toys that will make your kid smarter." Tiggly has a few apps that are free to download. The Tiggly shapes allow your little learner to interact with the apps on the device in an imaginative way.
3. Set Up a Space
Organize a Place For Materials and Students
I knew that setting up the space would be essential to making the stations work in our classroom. I found that having a lot of room for the children to rotate, spread out, and get comfortable worked best. I also needed a small space to gather for our small group sessions.
Corner Nook: set up a corner table to maximize space and provide seating
Intel AIO: get a computer that doubles as a touch screen tablet for all your needs
4. Create a Rotating Template
After deciding what stations we needed for our class, I had to figure out which groups would go where and when. Last year I set up a schedule that was based on a Monday - Friday rotation. This year, since our school operates on a six day cycle, I opted to adapt my workstations schedule to fit a six-day schedule.
I have also tried three rotations that each lasted about 15 minutes. This year, I am trying two rotations that last about 23 minutes each. I like having a longer time with each group. Feel free to try whichever pace fits your needs best.
*T = Teacher station (Since I have a small number of iPads in my room, I like using the TapItFree app with my students during this time. I am able to get immediate feedback from each person in my small group, in real time. It is a personal app that allows students to reply with confidence and confidentiality. This app, by The Answer Pad, is a fabulous formative assessment tool.
*HWT = Handwriting Without Tears station (Students view my flipped lesson via Educreations on the iPad while completing their journal pages.)
*EDM = Everyday Math station (Partners engage in a variety of games. We love anything on ABCya.com!)
*Writing = Digital Writing station (Children will contribute to our collaborative story using BoomWriter. Then we will publish the books and send them off to print. We will keep a copy in our classroom library!)
Rotation Schedule for Workstations
You can download this rotation template now!
5. Practice the Transitions
Roll It Out Slowly — May Take Up To Six Weeks!
I spend the first two weeks of school building relationships with my students and establishing routines. About the third week, I begin to introduce activities that will soon be used within our workstations. Each week, we practice using different apps on the iPad, websites on the computer, and games we have within the room.
During week seven, the students practice the stations with their partners. They are not doing the activities within the stations but rather practicing the transitions. For example, the students learn to read the rotation schedule so they know where to go and when. They also learn where to obtain their materials and how to find a spot to work. I begin by dinging my wand. This soft sound signals the partners to find where they go, gather their materials, and stand back to back. Once I see each partnership is back to back, I know they are ready to begin. I then ding the wand again. This signals the children to whisper work. After about 20 minutes, I would ding the wand again to signal clean up. However, during this practice time, I only allow about three minutes to work in the station. This is just practice time for transitions.
6. Start the Stations
Make Them Easy to Begin
Before we begin practicing the workstations, we gather as a group to set up the expectations for our workstations. We put these expectations into Class Dojo. These are the behaviors we will work towards during this time. Throughout week seven, I use the Class Dojo app to track the behaviors that need the most work. I do not use Class Dojo for individual students. We use it to facilitate whole group expectations. As a class, we look at the Class Dojo data to see what we need to improve upon for the next day.
During this week, I am not meeting with small groups. I am facilitating around the room, listening in to partnerships and trouble shooting any issues. The groups that are scheduled to meet with me during this time have "creative draw time." This way, it is easy for me (zero additional planning). Plus, the children L.O.V.E the opportunity to relax and draw with a friend. How often do they get to do that in school?
The class is very responsible in trying to work towards their personal best. When we launch independent workstations during week eight, we no longer track the behaviors. I find the children really take ownership of their actions.
Planning for Small Group Time During Workstations
You can download this guided reading planning template now!
As I'm meeting with my small groups, I typically plan for reading instruction. On occasion, depending on the group, we will work on writing or math. When I'm facilitating different groups during week seven, I take notes on what groups to work with on what skills and strategies. I combine these notes with my observations and notes from reading and writing workshop conferences. This way, I have a precise and personalized plan to use for each small group of individual learners.
7. Involve the Children in Planning
I'm always impressed by the level of creativity my students possess. They enjoy sharing their innovative ideas. When we plan for workstations, I place a blank planning template under the document camera. Students gather on the carpet in front of the SMART Board. We go through each section and discuss fun ideas to integrate into the station. They really rise to a level of professionalism when they're given trust and creative freedom. They take this collaboration very seriously.
8. Have a Share Time Each Day
Bringing closure to this time of day is important. We reflect on what went well, our favorite parts, how we helped one another, items we can improve upon, and fun that we had. I keep prompt cards on the wall to help guide this discussion. However, our natural conversation often facilitates a healthy discussion. We usually share for about three minutes. The students also practice their listening and speaking skills during this time.
We also share with parents. Families love seeing their children doing fun work throughout the day. Workstations is a perfect time for me to snap a few photos. I quickly upload them to Animoto.com (or the free app — hint: apply for the free educator's account). Then, once the video is produced, I take the link and share it in Remind 101. The Remind 101 app allows me to quickly and safely text the video to each parent. Parents subscribe to our class Remind 101 number at the beginning of the year.
9. Be Consistent and Creative
We now have time at the end of each day to become more hands on with learning. Students get to seek answers to their questions and demonstrate their learning through collaborative projects they share with their peers. Students love practicing skills on the IXL website or new math app. They also love updating their reading status through their literacy social network, Biblionasium. Having this creative time has made such a positive difference in our classroom.
Looking for Ideas to Use for Stations?
1. Inspiration for Education: click here to follow this collaborative Pinterest board
2. Scholastic's Top Teaching for Reading: click here to follow this board on Pinterest
3. Centers: click here to follow my Pin board for ideas and activities to use for your workstations
Scholastic also has FABULOUS freebies to check out:
Study Jams: click here
Freebie Corner: click here
Daily Starters: click here
Teaching Tools: click here
Another wonderful free resource that I recently found out about is from the new site, Buy Sell Teach. You can select from a variety of freebies from her site. You can click here to access the printable resources offered for free download to use in your classroom!
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